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The Dog's Mind: Understanding Your Dog's Behavior
The Dog's Mind: Understanding Your Dog's Behavior
The Dog's Mind: Understanding Your Dog's Behavior
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The Dog's Mind: Understanding Your Dog's Behavior

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



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"Quite simply this is an excellent book. It is well-written, with snatches of dry humour. It should be mandatory reading for anybody who keeps a dog or has intentions of so doing."
-R. W. F. Poole, Daily Telegraph

How do dogs perceive the world about them? How do they see, hear, learn, relate to their owners? How large are their brains, what is their emotional makeup? Why do they suffer from stress and how can it be coped with? Over the last few years a substantial body of knowledge has been built up about the psychology of dog behavior. Combining more than twenty years of practical experience as a veterinary clinician with a personal knowledge and understanding of the latest international research, Dr. Bruce Fogle has written the most inclusive and relevant book on how the canine mind works.

Release dateOct 14, 1992
The Dog's Mind: Understanding Your Dog's Behavior
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Bruce Fogle

Bruce Fogle is a veterinarian and the best-selling author of many books about dogs and cats, including The Dog's Mind. He is the co-founder and vice-chair of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and chair of Humane Society International, as well as running the London Vet Clinic. Barefoot at the Lake is his first memoir, and was followed up by Call the Vet.

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Rating: 4.222222222222222 out of 5 stars

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I found this book to be an excellent and indispensable resource on how best to communicate with your dog. The author is a devoted canine-lover but acknowledges that behavioral cues in the primate world and canine world are very different. Dogs do not understand English, and we don't understand Doglish! For example, what passes as affection (hugging your dog, especially around the head) in the primate world is an act of hostility in the canine world. I highly recommend this book.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Goes into great depth, such as the genetic development of dogs, but still has practical information about caring for a dog. Well referenced too.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Pra quem quiser abrir os horizontes sobre o tema, excelente livro!
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    This is one of the very first books I got about dog behavior. The book is both scientific and entertaining. It covers a little bit of obedience training at the end but it is mostly concerned about the way dogs behave and relate to their environment and their mental development and senses.If you really want to know how your dog relates and views the world around itself this is the book for you.

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The Dog's Mind - Bruce Fogle


A personal thank you to my head nurse and people-minder, Jenny Berry. I had worried that an intermittent absence from my veterinary clinic while researching and then writing this book might have had a deleterious effect on the practice. I should have known better. Thanks too, to Roger Abrantes in Denmark for sending me a copy of his book Hundesprog and for his permission for Anne Wilson to use his illustrations as inspiration for some of the marvellous sketches that follow.


There are millions of species of life that exist on earth today but of all of these the dog is almost certainly the animal that is closest to our hearts. Dogs are, of course, a fact of life in certain cultures, primarily European, American and Japanese. In these cultures we have lived with them for thousands or even tens of thousands of years. We have allowed them to share our dens, our food, our companionship. Of all the hundreds of millions of species that have ever existed on this earth, surely the dog has become the one we should understand the best.

     Yet we have a problem for there is something about dogs that makes us irrational. Ask a cat owner what he enjoys about his cat and more likely than not he'll tell you that he enjoys observing the natural quality of its behaviour. Cat owners – cat LOVERS – are observers and draw a clear line between themselves and their pets. In fact we do so with all species of animals yet, for some reason, we blur it with dogs. 'She's my best friend', I'm told almost daily in veterinary practice. 'I love her as much as my children', pet owners will confide. 'He's part of the family', I universally hear. And let me lay MY cards on the table now. I'm also one of the 89 per cent who talk to their dogs and think of them as members of the family, but in doing so, in creating little furry people out of our canine companions, we lose the ability to understand them as they really are. We think of their behaviour in human terms.

     Just as often as I'm told of the love and devotion my clients have for their pets, so too do I hear of the fidelity, love and everlasting affection that my patients have for their owners. And it's not just average pet owners who think this way either. 'Every dog that ever followed its master (gives) an immeasureable sum of love and fidelity,' wrote the Nobel prize winning ethologist Professor Konrad Lorenz in his book Man and his Dog.

     Konrad Lorenz, in attributing the feeling of 'love' to dogs, was talking about how they feel – about what goes on in a dog's mind, but exactly what is the mind? Can a dog really think? Do dogs have a culture? What is canine intelligence and how should it be defined? These are quite basic questions that I feel I should try to explain now so that you will know what terms of reference I'm using.

     First of all, I should explain that I have quite intentionally not called this book, 'The Dog's Brain' or 'The Dog's Behaviour'. It's called 'The Dog's Mind' for several reasons. The brain is simply one of the body's organs – a brilliant and poorly understood organ. In each brain there are billions of cells all with specific functions. In my dog's brain there are more cells than there have ever been dogs! These cells produce their own drugs such as the endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, and these drugs, in turn, affect the 'mind'. The word 'brainy' also denotes intelligence and we naturally assume that we are superior to all other animals because we're the 'brainiest' animals around. That's one of our little conceits. Our brains are certainly different to other animals and have allowed us to become the dominant species on earth, but to argue that our brains are superior is the same as arguing that a cow's intestines are superior to ours because they can digest cellulose fibre.

     The philosopher Thomas Nagel once wrote an article called, What is it like to be a bat? in which he discussed the philosophical problems of imagining what it is like to be what you are not.

     He depicted the bat's ability to echo locate, something that is so alien to our abilities that it's almost impossible to understand, and described how difficult it is for us to imagine that another animal is actually BETTER than we are at something. Nagel's argument applies to the dog too. The dog's brain has an ability to interpret scents and smells that is infinitely different to ours. You could say 'superior' but that is simply a value judgement. They simply can't be compared.

     I've avoided the word 'behaviour' in the title for similar reasons although I will in fact use it a great deal in what I describe in the forthcoming chapters. 'Behaviour' brings to mind rats in Skinner boxes, conditioned to press buttons to get food rewards. When the Russian Pavlov conducted his original experiments on dogs, the experiments where, for example, he discovered that a dog could be made to salivate at the sound of a ringing bell if that dog had been trained to associate the sound of the bell with food, he too had a problem in describing what was going on in what part of the dog's body. Other languages don't necessarily have words that are synonymous with the English word 'mind'. In French, 'tête', 'intelligence' or 'esprit' only come close. Pavlov initially used the Russian word 'ym' but later changed this to a phrase which in translation means 'higher nervous activity'.

     A further problem with using the word 'mind' is its association in Christian culture with the soul. A few years ago, I conducted a survey of British veterinarians concerning their attitude to pet death. One out of five practising veterinarians believed that a dog has a soul and an afterlife. (Two out of five believed that humans have souls and an afterlife.) When the same survey was applied a year later to practising veterinarians in Japan (where the Buddhist and Shintoist traditions allow for an afterlife for all living things), every single veterinarian surveyed believed that dogs have souls and an afterlife!

     I've avoided all of this and used the word 'mind' intentionally. To me, the dog's mind is a function of its brain, of evolution, of genetics, of the senses, of hormones and of learning and I will discuss each influence in its own chapter. Because learned behaviour is what we have most control over I will devote several chapters to this influence on the dog's mind.

     The mind can feel elation or depression, anger, sadness, thirst or hunger, pain or exhilaration. Dogs are sentient beings, aware of their own personalities. They have minds as much as we have and that's why I've used the word, even if its use waves like a red flag at some people. This isn't a dictionary definition but is rather my own definition and is based on the difference between objectivity and subjectivity which I feel also needs an explanation.

     In 1953, on Koshima Island in Japan, a monkey named Imo discovered that she could rub the mud off the sweet potatoes she had been given if she washed them underwater. This behaviour, potato washing, soon spread to her playmates, her mother and aunts and later to her own infants who also copied her. By the 1960s, over half of the entire troop of Koshima monkeys washed their potatoes before eating them.

     Imo's activities were, of course, observed by scientists who were interested in monkey behaviour but when they published their observations, they were severely criticized by Western animal behaviourists for being too anthropomorphic, for attributing too much human behaviour to their monkeys.

     Classically, the objective scientist has never interpreted what an animal perceives or thinks. In fact, animal behaviourists in the West almost universally adhered to this non judgmental approach. They were the Skinner box brigade who gave their animals code names and numbers and who tried to be as rational as possible.

     Japanese scientists, and under the influence of Nikko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, other scientists in Europe, continued their more subjective study of animals by getting to know them. The Japanese described their approach as 'kyokan', a term that is difficult to translate into English but which suggests an empathy and an understanding with the animal that is being studied. Their perseverance was of course correct and by the 1970s, the Japanese pattern of long-term studies of individual animals, 'kyokan', became the norm in the western world too.

     My approach throughout the coming chapters will be both objective and subjective. I'll describe objective research into the dog's mind but I will also liberally describe subjective and anecdotal observations. By definition, that means that I will discuss, to some extent, how a dog thinks. 'Thinking' brings into question whether dogs have a culture, what is cognition and what is intelligence? Aristotle said that animals can learn and can remember but cannot think. Washoe, the chimpanzee that was taught American sign language, has forever banished the thought that animals are incapable of thinking. Washoe taught us that chimpanzees think a lot – so much so that they can actually lie and be deceitful. But it's not just primates that think.

     Ask any shepherd and he will tell you that his sheepdog thinks about what he is going to do. In fact, ask any veterinarian and he will say the same. Dogs dream. During their sleep they go through periods of rapid eye movements (REMs) that on the electroencephalograph are the same as those we experience when we are dreaming. Dogs grieve. This is something that objectively can never be determined but subjectively is apparent to all keen observers of canine activity.

     The questions of culture and intelligence, however, are more difficult to define. John Tyler Bonner, in his book, The Evolution of Culture in Animals, defines culture as, 'the transfer of information by behavioural means'. Using his definition then, Imo the monkey was creating a new culture when her troop learned to copy her and wash their sweet potatoes underwater.

     All is not as clear with dogs. Certainly there are dramatic 'cultural' differences between breeds of dogs. Some are more dexterous than others. Some are fiercer than others. Some are louder and more gregarious than others, but in most instances these 'cultural' differences are as a result of genetic changes, genetic changes which occur und